A Postcard From: Helen Harman ’20

Name: Helen Harman
Class Year: 2020
Major: Growth and Structure of Cities

Internship Placement: Johns Hopkins University, Department of Anthropology
Location: Baltimore

Hello from Baltimore! This summer I’ve been working as a research assistant for Professor Alessandro Angelini in the Anthropology department at Johns Hopkins University. He’s using the summer to start work on his book on play and imagination in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, so my job is helping him out with the research and proofreading process. As a Cities major with tentative thoughts of pursuing a career in academia, it’s been a great experience to be around the process behind the production of scholarly work. While fieldwork-based research and the academic publication process are new to me, a lot of the topics Professor Angelini is working with are covered in Gary McDonogh’s course on global suburbia, which I took this past spring (and which I highly recommend, even though it’s required for Cities majors anyway). I was driven to pursue research with Professor Angelini because I could see how much more there was to learn about the margins of cities, and wanted to take the opportunity to get a better sense of what working in academia is really like.

My first week here, I read drafts of some of his papers, which we discussed alongside reviews that other academics had written as feedback. After that, I spent a couple weeks researching more about community groups in Baltimore for when Professor Angelini teaches Urban Anthropology, while he got his notes together for the book. That project was a great opportunity for me to get more familiar with the city, since I’m a newcomer, and even brought me to city meetings where I met new folks that have been able to teach me more about Baltimore from their experience. Now, Professor Angelini and I are back to working on his book, so I’ve spent the past couple days tracking down potential sources from the Hopkins library catalog. Next week I’ll be skimming them for sections that might be particularly important. The source topics range from the cultural politics of children’s play to race in Brazil to the cultural history of walking.

What’s also been really pleasant about this work is the flexibility of it, in large part because the position didn’t officially exist until I contacted Professor Angelini and he invited me to help out. Because we had to figure out what exactly my job would be, we had a lot of flexibility in terms of defining what work I might find useful and what kind of work he would most benefit from (for example, my spending a week or so going through 70-plus books with my trusty Post-It tabs). It’s also meant that we can spend a large part of our meetings talking about books he found useful when he was an undergraduate, of which he’s lent me several already. It all ties back to cities, but in new ways that I haven’t come across in my classes before. This has been a great summer for learning in new ways and getting to be a part of more in-depth research.